As anyone that reads the newspaper understands, Pennsylvania is facing a real and serious skilled labor crisis. More and more often, employers are struggling to find employees to fill the jobs that their companies need to be successful. In fact, this problem is increasingly cited as the number one problem facing employers in the Commonwealth.
At the federal level, we are working with the Seasonal Business Alliance to increase the cap on H-2B visas to help seasonal, small business owners in Pennsylvania, and throughout the country, secure the workforce they need to keep and grow their business. We plan to delve into this particular issue in a future post.
There is also significant need for state and local efforts to address this problem within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There has been some important state government action designed to try to address workforce development issues. It is important that employers keep track of these efforts so that they are able to take advantage of any new services or programs. Additionally, there may be legislation moving that employers have specific insight on and could help to improve. Here, we take a look at some of the efforts underway by state government to help address the current jobs crisis.
In Governor Wolf’s 2019 budget address, workforce development issues took center stage, along with a list of policies and proposals designed to solve the crisis that the Governor dubbed the Statewide Workforce, Education and Accountability Program (SWEAP). The cornerstone of SWEAP was the creation of the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.
On February 19, 2019, Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order creating the command center. Consisting of three members from the private sector along with three cabinet secretaries from Pennsylvania departments, the purpose of the command center is to identify worker shortages and skills gaps and to make recommendations. Additionally, the command center is tasked with monitoring the progress of the implementation of the proposals that are outlined in SWEAP.
Also of note is the Governor’s PASmart program, which was launched last year and was expanded in the enacted 2019–2020 budget. This competitive grant program strategically targets money to help expand science, engineering, math, and technology (STEM) training and economic development to help to close the skills gap.
In addition to administration-led efforts to address this workforce crisis, legislators from both parties have introduced and voted on a myriad of proposals targeting these issues. Some have already begun moving through the process and a handful of them seem poised for potential action during the legislative days coming this fall.
An example of some of the kinds of legislation that has seen significant progress through the legislative process is HB 393, which would create a new program within PASmart concerning an online career resource center. This online database would provide citizens seeking jobs or additional training with a wealth of resources such as postsecondary pathways and options, career and technical education and workforce opportunities and much more.
Taking a similar approach, HB 394 would provide for a survey of all workforce development programs offered at secondary and postsecondary institutions and create an online, searchable database of all of those programs. This will make finding and accessing these programs much easier for people looking for help.
There are many other bills being introduced and considered in addition to these two, and some are even farther along in the process. A major factor in any of these proposals will be how they are going to be funded. Enacting any new program usually means needing additional funding. Funding decisions are made in conjunction with the state budget process which is usually finalized sometime in June prior to the Constitutional June 30th deadline.
Finally, there are many industry-led efforts to address these workforce development challenges. There is some very interesting work being done in the life sciences area by organizations such as our partner, the University City Science Center (UCSC). The life sciences is a rapidly growing industry within Pennsylvania, employing 112,000 people directly during 2016 and an additional 230,000 indirectly. The UCSC has a variety of programs to tackle training and skill development, matching employers to job seekers, and building industry partnerships to help identify and fill gaps in our labor market.
Again, this is just a small sampling of the many things happening in the Commonwealth to address workforce development issues. Employers would be well advised to stay plugged into what is happening in their local area and at the state level to ensure that they’re taking advantage of programs and services, and to make sure that the solutions being proposed are meeting their needs.
This post was written for Ridge Policy Group by Jason High. Jason brings a rare blend of public service, political expertise, and private sector experience to the Ridge Policy Group. Jason’s real-world experience combined with his intimate knowledge of state government provide a unique insight for the benefit of our clients.